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Tencent makes moves to build metaverse

Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings is reportedly planning to acquire gaming smartphone manufacturer Black Shark in a move that could help the company build its own metaverse.

If the acquisition goes ahead, Black Shark will shift its business focus from gaming mobile phones to virtual reality hardware, according to a report from news outlet 36kr.

Black Shark, which has a presence in China, Europe and south Asia, is currently majority-owned by technology giant Xiaomi.

As noted by Bloomberg in November, making a play for the metaverse is a logical step for Tencent.

The company already owns a stake in video game company Epic Games – the maker of Fortnite which has hosted virtual concerts from the likes of  Travis ScottAriana GrandeMarshmello, Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Easy Life and J. Balvin.

Tencent Holdings invested $330 million in Epic Games in 2012 (around five years before Fortnite was released) in return for a 40% stake.

“We felt that we have a lot of tech and capability building blocks that will allow us to approach the Metaverse opportunities”

The company also entered into a strategic partnership with Roblox, in May 2019, in which Tencent holds a 49% stake. Last year, Tencent filed for two Metaverse-related trademarks.

Tencent president Martin Lau spoke about the company’s positioning to build a metaverse during the company’s Q3 earnings call in November: “In terms of our capabilities and our positioning, we felt we actually have a lot of the technology and know-how building blocks for us to explore and develop for the Metaverse opportunity”.

He continued: “For example, we have a lot of gaming experiences. We also have very strong social networking experience. In addition to that, in terms of technology building blocks, we have engine capability, we have AI capability, we have the capability to build large server architecture that can serve a huge number of concurrent users.”

Tencent has stiff competition from other tech giants in a race to build the metaverse – namely from Meta (formerly known as Facebook).

The company announced plans in October 2021 to hire 10,000 people to accelerate its development of a metaverse but it has promised to collaborate, adding, “it won’t be built overnight by a single company”.

 


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Facebook surges ahead in race to create metaverse

Facebook plans to hire 10,000 people to accelerate its development of a so-called metaverse  – a virtual world in which people can work, game, play and even watch concerts.

The word ‘metaverse’ – made up of the prefix ‘meta’ (meaning beyond) and the stem ‘verse’ (a back-formation from “universe”) – is typically used to describe the future iteration of the internet, made up of permanent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

Using technologies like virtual and augmented reality, Facebook says it hopes to create a greater sense of “virtual presence” in the metaverse that will “mimic the experience of interacting in person”.

Facebook has made building the metaverse one of its priorities, investing in virtual reality through its Oculus headsets and building VR apps for social hangouts and for the workplace.

In 2018, the tech giant expanded into VR live events, including concerts, with the launch of its social events app Oculus Venues.

Facebook invested $50 million in funding non-profit groups to help “build the metaverse responsibly”

The app enabled users of its Oculus Go and Gear VR headsets to watch live music and sports alongside other virtual-reality avatars.

In 2020, Occulus partnered with artist-owned streaming platform Tidal to bring a series of exclusive and intimate live performances that can be streamed in virtual reality to fans’ homes.

More recently it invested $50 million in funding non-profit groups to help “build the metaverse responsibly”.

However, Facebook claims the metaverse “won’t be built overnight by a single company” and has promised to collaborate.

A number of massive tech-centric companies that have vested interests in music, such as Tencent and Alibaba, are also investigating how to build a metaverse.

Roblox’s global head of music told IQ in January that he thinks the metaverse will be bigger than the internet and mobile

Over the course of several years, Epic Games has been expanding its hugely popular online multiplayer game Fortnite to host virtual concerts and brand events within its own virtual world.

Ariana Grande, MarshmelloTravis Scott, Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Easy Life and J. Balvin are among the artists that have delivered virtual concerts within the game.

Other games are getting closer to a metaverse idea, too. Roblox, for example, is an online community where people come together to play, create and explore millions of 3D virtual worlds together with their friends.

The online gaming platform has also incorporated virtual concerts into its offering with performances from the likes of  Royal Blood and Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots.

Roblox’s global head of music, Jon Vlassopulos, told IQ in January that he thinks the metaverse will be bigger than the internet and mobile.

Startup companies including Stage11, AmazeVR, Stageverse and Sensorium have also announced ambitions to develop a metaverse.

 


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Warner Music Group files for IPO

Label giant Warner Music Group (WMG), which owns a number of live assets in addition to its recorded music interests, has announced plans for an initial public offering (IPO).

The number of shares of common stock to be offered and the price of the offering have not yet been disclosed.

The announcement signals WMG’s return to the stock market, where it traded until 2011, before being bought by British billionaire Len Blavatnik through his company Access Industries for US$3.3 billion.

The news comes after the recent valuation of rival Universal Music Group at over US$30 billion, following Chinese entertainment giant Tencent’s acquisition of a 10% stake in the company.

The announcement signals WMG’s return to the stock market, where it traded until 2011

The Warner Music Group includes the records labels Warner, Atlantic, Elektra and Parlophone, publishing and global music distribution arms and is home to artists including Ed Sheeran, Cardi B, Dua Lipa and Bruno Mars.

WMG’s live music interests include concert discovery platform Songkick, Finnish promoter Warner Music Live and management company Umbrella Artists Productions, which it owns with promoter FKP Scorpio.

Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs are managing the flotation.

WMG’s filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commissions (SEC) can be read here.

 


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Beijing’s music industry to be worth $17bn by 2025

The Beijing municipal government has unveiled plans to position the city as an “international music capital”, aiming for revenue from the Chinese capital’s music and related industries to reach ¥120 billion (US$17.2bn) by 2025.

The city, which generated ¥60bn, or $8.6bn, from its music industry in 2017 according to government officials, is to become the “global centre of Chinese music”.

The proposal calls for Beijing to build more small-sized live music venues, offer artists better copyright protections and increase development of its digital music industry.

The government guidelines also encourages innovation in music technology, including AI composition and “musical emotional recognition”. Separate plans will now be drawn up for the implementation of the policy.

According to a recent report by the China Music Industry Forum, the country’s music industry was worth more than ¥370bn ($53bn) in 2019, up 8% year-on-year.

“Interest in the local market has skyrocketed in recent years”

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has also been designated an “international music capital” by the government.

Kyle Bagley, owner of Chinese music industry marketing agency Groove Dynasty, told the South China Morning Post that government support could greatly benefit local musicians.

“Interest in the local market has skyrocketed in recent years, and with the success of the country’s home-grown music streaming platforms and growth in the live music sector, an initiative like this could help bring more money and stability to the budding industry, and increase interest from overseas in a major way,” says Bagley.

Dave Pichilingi, CEO of the UK and US division of Chinese entertainment company Modern Sky, is another to note the international potential for the Chinese music market. Speaking to IQ in July, Pichilingi said the level of opportunity is “especially huge” in China, although it currently remains “a relatively untapped marketplace” internationally.

Tencent, a leader in the Chinese entertainment and tech space, last week led a consortium in the acquisition of a 10% in Universal Music Group, in a deal which valued UMG at €30bn.

 


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Tencent acquires U-Live stake with UMG buy-in

Vivendi and a consortium led by Tencent, the Chinese tech and entertainment giant, have finalised the consortium’s acquisition of a 10% stake in Universal Music Group (UMG), concluding talks than began last summer.

The acquisition values UMG at €30 billion, with members of the consortium including Tencent Holdings Ltd, Tencent Music (often referred to as ‘China’s Spotify’) and “certain global financial investors”, according to a joint statement.

The consortium has the option to purchase an additional up-to-10% stake in UMG at the same ‘enterprise value’ (the value of the whole company; ie €30bn) before 15 January 2021, while Tencent Music also has the option to acquire a minority stake in UMG’s business in so-called ‘Greater China’ (the PRC, including Hong Kong and Macau, plus Taiwan).

Pending regulators’ approvals, the transaction is expected to complete by the end of June 2020.

“Vivendi is very happy with the arrival of Tencent and its co-investors. They will enable UMG to further develop in the Asian market,” reads a statement from UMG’s French parent company, Vivendi.

“Together with Vivendi, Tencent and TME will work to broaden the opportunities for artists and to enrich experiences for music fans”

Tencent adds: “Tencent and the Consortium members are excited to support UMG’s growth through this investment.

“Together with Vivendi, Tencent and TME [Tencent Music Entertainment] will work to broaden the opportunities for artists and to enrich experiences for music fans, further promoting a thriving music and entertainment industry.”

The acquisition of a 10% share of UMG also gives Tencent a stake in U-Live, Universal Music’s live music arm, whose UK festival stable includes Love Supreme, the Long Road, Sundown and Nocturne.

UMG grew its revenues 17.5% in the nine months ending September 2019, the most recently available financial results, to over €5 billion (€1.8bn in Q3), bolstered by strong merchandise revenues and the success of artists including Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish.

Universal reports merchandise boom in 2019

Tencent – which, in addition to its music interests, leads the world in social media and videogaming – turned over CN¥312.7 billion (€40.2bn) in 2018, and employs nearly 60,000 people.

 


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Vivendi moves forward with UMG sale

French media conglomerate Vivendi is in talks with Chinese tech group Tencent to sell 10% of its stake in Universal Music Group (UMG).

According to Vivendi, the deal would place UMG at a valuation of €30 billion. Tencent would also have the option of increasing its stake by another 10% in a year, at the same valuation.

Vivendi shares rose 9% in early trading today (Tuesday 6 August), following the announcement of Tencent negotiations and were up 6% to €25.4 at press time.

The French media company believes the deal with China’s Tencent could aid UMG growth through “digitilisation and the opening of new markets”. The company also hopes to improve promotion of UMG artists.

“Vivendi is keen to explore cooperation which could help UMG capture growth opportunities offered by opening of new markets”

The potential sale of a UMG stake has been discussed since 2018, with the plan being to sell the stake to “one or more strategic partners”, rather than via an IPO.

A statement from Vivendi states the media company will continue the process for the sale of an additional minority stake in UMG to other potential partners.

Recent Vivendi half-year financial results show UMG revenues up 18.6% to US$3.7bn, with music by artists including Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish performing particularly well.

The results also showed revenue from Vivendi’s live entertainment and ticketing unit, Vivendi Village, up 55% on a year-on-year basis to €66m.

 


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‘Chinese Google’ Baidu eyes ticketing with blockchain platform

Chinese search engine giant Baidu has launched BaaS, an open blockchain platform designed for the “safe, efficient and inexpensive” trade of various items, including cryptocurrencies and digital tickets.

Baidu – which has been described as “China’s Google” and is the country’s most-visited website, as well as fourth in the world – says BaaS (Blockchain as a Service) is the most “user-friendly” blockchain service for businesses, and can be also be used to manage bank loans, credit cards, insurance and more.

The company claims the technology has already been successfully used to exchange and securitise assets, according to Russian website CoinSpot.

BaaS isn’t Baidu’s first blockchain-related venture: it has accepted payment in bitcoin for its web services division, Jiasule, since 2013.

Rival Chinese web conglomerate Tencent already has a blockchain platform of its own, while Alibaba – which has been steadily buying into the live entertainment business with the acquisition of ticketing service Damai and the launch of a booking agency and management company – is ploughing money into blockchain technologies for the food and healthcare industries.

 


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